Marvel gets its first Asian superhero in Shang Chi, an enjoyable martial arts/CGI mysticism mashup with classy action, witty banter and plenty of subtext about claiming your identity. Birthed in the 70s, when kung fu was all the craze, Shang Chi was a novelty hero from the Marvel stable. Lesser known than other costumed warriors from the MCU, Shang Chi the movie gives the character room to breathe, and although it contains some obvious tropes, there’s a freshness to the proceedings, as well as some impressively staged chop-socky.
Simu Liu is a charismatic lead, funny and with the action skills to match: he is Shang Chi, or Shaun as he is now known, having fled his father’s grip when 14. Trained to be an assassin in the wake of his mother’s death, he is asked to do his father Tony Leung’s bidding. The dad has been a puppet master of world events since he found 10 mystical rings a thousand years ago, granting him untold power and immortality. Then he fell in love with a guardian of the mystical land of Ta Lo (Fala Chen) and had two children, Shang Chi and sister Xialing (the equally butt-kicking Meng’er Zhang). Peace reigned until his violent past caught up with him.
Estranged from his father and living life as a valet with the excellent Awkwafina’s Katy, Liu gets drawn back into his father’s world with his sister, leading to the discovery of Ta Lo, with its Zen-like warriors led by Michelle Yeoh. Liu must learn to find balance with his father and mother’s philosophies, whilst also saving the world from an ancient evil and trying not to be killed by his dad.
It’s breezily entertaining: Liu and Awkwafina make a winning couple and the smackdowns are superbly staged, a melee inside a bus and on scaffolding outside a skyscraper proving particularly arresting. There are some surprise cameos – and, thankfully, not too much new world building – some winning references to the past, and a cute faceless animal. Indie director Cretton, who made the excellent Short Term 12 starring Captain Marvel herself Brie Larson, makes sure character sits alongside spectacle in this next enjoyable step in the diversifying of the Marvel Universe.
Dir: Destin Daniel Cretton (12A, 132 mins)
Out now in cinemas
words KEIRON SELF
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